Apricots are a versatile stone fruit that are one of the first to ripen in summer. Rich in minerals and vitamins apricots are delicious eaten raw and can be used to make excellent jams, preserves, chutneys, pickles, puddings, sauces, stuffings and they dry very well too. Apricots grow on smallish trees that can be highly productive and require comparatively little effort as long as conditions are right. Apricots can grow in most parts of the country and will do best where they get a cold spell in winter that helps to stimulate production of flower buds. They are frost hardy, although blossom can be damaged by late spring frosts. Dwarf varieties make them suitable for growing pots and containers so they are good for small gardens too.
Companions borage, chives, comfrey, strawberries, marigold, calendula
Quantity 1tree per family
There are varieties suited to different parts of the country. You need to consider when your last frosts have passed and coincide this with a variety that flowers after this time. You can also get trees with two or three varieties grafted onto them. This means flowers of the two varieties pollinate each other and often you’ll get fruit for longer than if growing a single variety. These are usually quite small trees.
Moorpark produces large smooth skinned fruit that have no fur. Good straight from tree but also preserve and bottle well. Harvest is in mid to late season so this is a good cold tolerant variety that flowers after spring frosts. Self fertile.
Royal Rosa produces sweet, delicious orange fruit early in the season. Trees are heavy cropping and self fertile. Good for warmer areas where late spring frosts are not a threat.
Garden Annie produces golden yellow fruit with good flavour. Smaller than many other varieties good for small gardens and warmer areas. Self fertile.
Trees are generally planted when dormant either side of winter in late autumn or early spring.
Trees like a sunny open position with good air circulation but shelter from strong prevailing winds. Put them where you’ll be able to enjoy easily walking around them and ensure access is good. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch. Apricots grow well in the reflected heat of a warm north facing wall.
Apricots like a fertile soil that is well drained.
Space trees about five strides from trunk to trunk.
Before planting dig a hole about 20% larger than the size of the container the plant comes in. Half-fill with well-rotted compost, rotted manure and some coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Mix together with garden soil at the bottom of the hole. Soak the container-grown tree before gently lifting it from its pot. Check the roots on the root ball and loosen any that appear to have grown around the inside of the pot – this should help them to get away and grow into the garden soil. Stand the root ball in the hole and adjust soil beneath it so that soil level is the same as ground level around it. Back fill with the soil/compost mix and firm with downward hand-pressure as you go. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the root ball. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground. Water well.
Bare root tree: Soak your bare root tree in a bucket of water. Dig a hole - about a full arm length wide and deep - in your pre-prepared planting spot. Half-fill the hole with compost and mix with soil at the bottom - if you want to you can add a couple of spades-full of coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Make a shallow mound in the centre of your hole and sit the bare root tree on the mound with the upward-pointing stem in the middle and the roots radiating around it. The union (scar at bottom of main stem just above roots) should be about a thumb’s length above the soil when the hole is backfilled (you can judge where this will be by placing a bamboo cane across the hole from one side to the other and noticing where this comes against the stem of the tree). To back fill, gently work the mixture of soil and compost around the roots, firming the soil as you go until you have all but filled the hole to ground level. Fill the low depression that is left with water and allow soil to settle around the roots. Then finish filling the hole up to finished ground level. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the spread roots. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground.
If planting in a container ensure it is large enough. Half barrels or large terracotta pots look good and they are the right size too. Use a rich, fertile compost with a layer of drainage material – scoria or broken pot fragments – at the bottom. Add slow release granules or sheep pellets before planting. When grapefruits are grown in containers it pays to put them where you’ll easily monitor them to ensure soil is moist – particularly in dry weather.
Water around the base of your young trees in dry periods, making sure that soil gets enough water for roots to be fully soaked.
Mulch around base of newly-planted trees, especially if you have sandy soil or trees are planted in lawns or grassy orchards. Cover a circle as wide as the spread of the branches with a finger-deep layer of compost, rotted manure or old straw and replenish mulch when necessary. Make sure the mulching layer doesn’t touch the stem of your tree as this can cause it to rot. This should be done for the first three years after planting, Thereafter roots should have spread wide enough to draw sufficient moisture and nutrients without help. You can plant borage, comfrey, chives and strawberries beneath your trees to draw nutrients from deep in the soil and to attract beneficial pollinating and predatory insects.
Trees can be fed with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around the outer edge of their drip line in spring, however if you keep the ground beneath your trees weed-free and well-mulched when its dry this should help to reduce the amount of feeding that is required.
Container grown plants may need more regular feeding with a constant layer of mulch maintained at all times and a sprinkling of blood and bone meal every spring and autumn.
Pollination: Trees are self fertile and are pollinated by bees and other insects. Two trees can still be better than one for good pollination.
Thinning: To ensure a good crop, trees are thinned when fruit are young, green and hard. Remove smaller fruit that are over-crowding stems.
Depending on variety and weather you can be apricots from early summer. Taste is a good enough indicator of ripeness but generally fruit are ripe when fully-coloured and they give slightly when squeezed. If you are in any doubt keep an eye on birds that will descend onto trees in numbers as soon as fruit are ready. Pick by hand, snipping a short length of stem with secateurs but not so long that it will damage other fruit in your basket. Handle fruit carefully when harvesting to prevent bruising. Line your bucket or basket with soft material such as cloth or newspaper.
Fresh apricots don’t last all that long and are best enjoyed warm from the tree. They will continue ripening once picked and sweetness and texture can both improve after a day or so at room temperature. Keep them in the fridge and they should be good for a week. Apricots can be preserved, bottled in syrup, made into jams, puddings and they are very good dried.
Prune in summer after fruiting.Trees are routinely pruned to keep the centre open by removing any vigorous stems that are growing inwards or that shoot upwards above the general framework. After harvest stems that have borne fruit are trimmed back by up to half and to an outward facing bud. New shoots are cut back by a third.
Regular maintenance involves cutting out dead, diseased and crossing stems.
Apricots can be pruned to grow as fans of carefully spaced stems against a sunny wall or fence. Stems are pruned to maintain a strong framework and to stimulate new shoots that will produce flowers and then fruit.
Birds are a common arrival just as apricots start to ripen. Where practical trees are covered with mesh to protect the fruit. Other pests include scale insects, aphids and leaf roller caterpillars.
Trees are also susceptible to fungal diseases such as blight, brown rot, powdery mildew and bacterial spot to name but a few. The best method is prevention and planting in the right conditions. To make life easier, plant to attract beneficial predators as controlling an outbreak of pests on a tree can be hard without resorting to sprays.
To reduce the likelihood of your trees falling victim to and suffering from pests and diseases look after them and maintain a diverse planting in your growing area.
Sweep and compost fallen leaves.
Mulch and feed, ensure constant moisture during dry weather.
Spray fresh spring foliage with Neem oil spray to kill aphids, scale insects and mites.
For best advice on how to deal with fruit tree related problems in your area seek out local organic growers and talk to them. A half hour chat can save on years of trial and error.